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Eco-systems - Welcome to a new cooperating world

Last week I attended the Digital Finance Summit conference in Brussels, organized by Fintech Belgium, B-Hive, Febelfin and EBF. A central theme of the summit was the cooperation between banks and Fintechs and more in general the rise of ecosystems. In the past I have written already about this topic in my blogs about "Transforming the bank to an Open API Ecosystem ( and "The war for direct customer contact - Banks should fight along!" (, but still I was surprised about the number of initiatives taken in this domain.

In my last job at The Glue, I already had the pleasure to work on several interesting cases:

  • TOCO ( bringing entrepreneurs, accountants and banks closer together, by supporting entrepreneurs and accountants in their daily admin (and in the future with possible extensions to social-accounting secretariats, notaries, government…​)

  • Dot-Capital ( bringing investors, issuers and banks together for managing primary market debt products (and in future with possible extensions to audit firms, lawyer companies, National Banks, clearing houses…​)

  • A consumer credit origination platform (in development - under NDA): providing a platform allowing customers to select the best consumer credit from a few offers of different credit institutions. In first phase only bringing together customers and different banks, but in later phases this could be extended to insurers (for a credit insurance), car dealers, kitchen/bathroom vendors, travel companies…​

Recently I switched to Monizze and also there we have a strong ecosystem. Monizze sells digital vouchers (meal, eco and gift) to employers, who can grant those to their employees as a fiscally interesting instrument to allow employees to get more net wage. These digital vouchers can then be consumed in a closed payment network of affiliated merchants. This creates a strong private ecosystem, in which all parties can profit, i.e. employers can get more motivated employees (as more net wage), employees get extra wage, while the affiliated merchants can get additional revenues. But this is only the beginning:

  • For the beneficiaries of vouchers, i.e. employees, you can build out a full ecosystem to consume the vouchers, i.e.

    • recommendation and search engine for restaurants and food shops, which are affiliated to Monizze, close to your current location and fitting the user’s personal preferences

    • discounts and coupons

    • inform and subscribe to food- and eco-related events

    • reserve a table at a restaurant

    • provide an online shop for affiliated merchants

    • online food ordering and delivery

    • …​

  • For the employers, you can extend the ecosystem to other services, like

    • Other extra-legal benefits for employees, which further improve the motivation of employees (employee well-being)

    • Services making the HR-related communication and tasks (between employees and employers) more efficient and fluent

But also, on the summit, there were several interesting examples:

  • KBC and Belfius are extending their banking app with a lot of third-party services, in order to convert the app to a mobile assistant app. This ensures that customers are using their banking app more and more, allowing to generate more stickiness and more (cross-)selling opportunities. Examples of third-party services being integrated are: buying public transport tickets, car parking, get an overview of balance and transaction of Monizze vouchers, integration with personal digital vault and document vault of the Belgian government…​
    Even more interesting is the announcement of KBC, that they will open their app, also to non-KBC customers, transforming their closed ecosystem to an open ecosystem, which expands the potential of their ecosystem even further.

  • Raisin: provides a pan-European deposit marketplace of 88 partner banks spread over more than 30 countries. This allows a customer to deposit his money on accounts of different banks, with a single onboarding at Raisin.

  • Libra payment ecosystem: debated and condemned a lot in the media in recent months, the Libra association aims to create an open payment ecosystem based on a digital crypto-currency, on which any party can create a digital wallet (like for example the Calibra wallet of Facebook)

It is clear that there are endless examples of successful ecosystems already existing or being setup, but more important to ask is what do those use cases have in common to let them evolve to a successful ecosystem. This question is especially important to answer, given the numerous of "empty box" ecosystems, in which a lot of time and money is invested, but gradually die out a few years later.

In my belief following characteristics should be met:

  • Ecosystem should be powered by a tangible digital platform, built and maintained by a central party, which acts as the digital and governing partner and owner of the ecosystem, but can potentially also be a player/partner on the ecosystem. The platform ensures a fluent exchange of information between the actors in the ecosystem, enforces rules and takes care of the monetization (calculation and potentially billing) of the interactions.

  • Ecosystem can be closed but should best be as open as possible. This means as little barrier as possible to enter, i.e. no restrictions, no large entry and setup fees and an easy integration via well-defined APIs.

  • Preferably multi-industry: the most successful ecosystems bring together players from different industries (which previously had little to no direct interactions).

  • Ensure a win-win relationship for all involved parties: each party should have a clear benefit (extra revenues, reducing costs, branding…​) of being on the platform. For example, government forced ecosystems, where not all involved parties have a benefit, will lack innovation towards the future. Instead it is much better for governments to setup the platform in such a way that all parties can have benefits.

  • Ensure that each party creates value for at least 1 other party on the ecosystem: this means that an ecosystem owner should not fear of removing partners which are not being used, as they will create confusion and overhead otherwise.

  • Remove frictions as much as possible on the platform. This means the user experience should be much more fluent, compared to the user accessing each partner separately. This should be achieved by features like SSO (Single Sign-on) between different parties (avoiding replication of authentication), easy data exchange (while respecting user privacy) avoiding replication of data input, maximizing network effects, reduced pricing…​

  • Ecosystem should have a clear strategy and scope, related to improving the user experience around a specific product, service or use case. This means an ecosystem of all firms in country X is too vague, unless all those firms have a specific common problem, which the ecosystem can address.

But even checking all those boxes is no guarantee for success. With the number of ecosystems being created, there is fierce competition for the attention of the customer. Only being the ecosystems with best user experience and most compelling offer will ultimately survive. Will be interesting to see, which market players will still be in place 5 years from now.




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